Arakawa House (Atelier Tekuto)

Arakawa House is the latest Atelier Tekuto/Yamashita Yasuhiro's Houses project. Arakawa House has been built in Arakawa ward, one of Tôkyô 23 special wards. Arakawa-ku is densely crowded ward with an estimated population of 199,321 and a density of about 19,540 inhabitants per km2. The total area is 10,20 km2.

Building in Tôkyô is hard due to the conditions of plots, the high density of residential areas, and other internal problems. Yet, recently, demand for small houses— kyosho jûtaku — increases, in Tokyo. Atelier Tekuto is among others that has developed, for a decade, research on the issue of plots in big Japanese cities. Lots are very expensive compared to the price of a house — house is less important than a lot. Due to inheritance taxes, subdivision of land lots (not only residential lots, but also small-scale commercial lots) increases progressively. Heirs have to pay an inheritance tax so high that they have to sell a portion of their inherited lots in order to pay the tax. Other reason is proposed by Tokyo-based Ishikawa Jun "Once the bubble period ended, land owners thought that the easiest way to sell large properties was by subdividing them into smaller sections." These two factors are among a large number of reasons that explain the increase of is one of tiny plots, and eccentric houses implanted into these microscopic plots. Despite of site conditions, "it is [the architect's] job to satisfy the customer's needs regardless of the site conditions."

Arakawa House is one of these famous small houses that are recently the theme of a large number of publications.

Arakawa House is located in a quiet residential area, just 10-minutes-walking distance from the Yamanote line Nishinippori. The family, composed of 5 members, wanted to build a house in Arakawa ward, a district where they have been living for a while.

The House has been built in a 56.06 square-meter lot. The building itself has a surface of 39.67 square meter.

Due to constraints of urban legislations, Yamashita Yasuharu has to find solutions to take account of the building environment — the relation to adjacent buildings, the relation to the street — and the lot itself. Fors instance, architects must do with the distance — 50 cm — with adjacent houses. The simple volume consists of stories and a terrace, with a total floor area of 104.16 square meters. The terrace of the third storey makes light and ventilation easier to penetrate and circulate in the house. These factors of light and ventilation are imposed by the construction regulation are among these manifolds urban constraint that Tôkyô faces with.

Windows play an important role to make the quality of life of such house easier. Here, rhythmical distribution of large windows (placed in the second story) and small windows appears to be appropriated from neighboring buildings. The large openings seem at odds with the modestly-scaled elevations. One will notice that windows of Japanese small houses resonate with the scale of the cityscape outside. Yet they maintain an intimate scale on the interior.

Building a kyosho jûtaku (small house) necessitates to have a complete mastery of plan and section. According to architect Ishida Toshiaki, "As the scale becomes smaller, considering both plan and section in planning, one must simultaneously develop it in its totality." From this viewpoint, due to the narrow spaces, entire floors of kyosho jûtaku (small house) are limited to one function. Architects must find solution to propose flexible space for many uses. KSA (Kazuyo Sejima Architects), Office for Nishizawa, Atelier Tekuto/Yamashita Yasuharu or else Atelier Bow Wow are among these architecture firms which have a complete mastery of the distribution of interior spaces and functions. Their spaces are never limited to one function: they let the inhabitants decide themselves for the function and the distribution of space.

I am now waiting for more information about the interior spaces. Consequently, this article is not fnished. More information can be found in their website.

© photo by Haruka Otani. Images are found in Atelier Tekuto's website

Atelier Bow Wow, Bow Wow From Post City Bubble, Inax Publishers, 2006

Ishida Toshiaki, Chiba Manabu, Sato Mitsuhiko, "Small. Fragments of a conversation", Japan Architect, n°43, Autumn, 2001, pp.4-5.

Bull Brett, "A small revolution in urban architecture", in Small House Tokyo. How the Japanese Live Well in Small Spaces, Cocoro Books, 2008


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